Greetings, fans of The Good Lab! I’m Joe Zemek, the Lab’s outreach coordinator. I’m what many of y’all recognize as an industry newbie: I’ve supported hemp and cannabis legalization from the sidelines, and, in my previous political work, by connecting candidates with knowledge and endorsement opportunities. Now, I have taken the plunge into working in the industry, to play a more direct role in supporting and promoting hemp in Colorado and nationwide. As with any entry into a new industry, there is A LOT to learn, so I was very excited about my first NoCo Hemp Expo.
We knew the event was gonna be big, following the Farm Bill, the move to the larger venue, and the completely full parking within a mile of Crowne Plaza. Even so, when we walked in, my bosses Greg and Teri gasped – it was jam-packed, we were sardines in seconds. Decked out in our tie-dyed lab coats, we waded into the loud crowd to find our friends and meet new people.
On the floor of the exhibitor hall, the variety of 225 exhibitors spanned each aisle: seeds were sold next to soaps, farm equipment next to legal services, tinctures next to extractors. From the massive GenCanna space set apart from the aisles as an island in the floor, to the smallest booths for grassroots folks like Hemp Fuel Group, you could find just about anything short of a graphene production setup. Here’s the floor plan and exhibitor list from the program.
So began a day of slowly negotiating the aisles, having conversations, exchanging business cards, weaving between folks, forgetting to take pictures, and trying to remember what I was learning as I was learning it. To a newbie, everything is impressive. There is tremendous competition and variety among CBD retailers. Tincture bottles were omnipresent.
It was also fun when my political buddy, Governor Jared Polis, toured the aisles following his speech to the Business Conference, taking some time to chat with attendees and participate in selfies.
Concurrent with the exhibition floor were numerous talks and presentations in three separate conference rooms separate from the floor. On Friday, these presentations were for the Business Conference; on Saturday, they were for the Farm Symposium. After the hectic and massively extroverted nature of Friday, I was glad to be able to—after doing the rounds and taking some pictures in the morning—sit down and listen to panels and speakers in the conference rooms on Saturday.
First though, I had to choose. Organic Regenerative Agriculture, OR Best Farming Practices? Evolution of Hemp Genetics Panel, OR Industrial Vs Cannabinoids Checklist To Success? This is why one event, even as comprehensive as NoCo Expo 2019, isn’t nearly enough for the beginner. Even someone with plenty of knowledge under their belt looking to expand would have at some point faced a difficult choice when looking at their program and choosing a session. This is a good problem to have… but it is still kind of a problem.
In a lineup of passionate speakers, the most impassioned speaker I listened to Saturday was native activist and hemp farmer Winona LaDuke. With the hemp industry on the rise, we have an opportunity to ensure that native farmers, producers, and business people are included and valued in all facets of the hemp industry. If hemp is seen as just another opportunity to get rich quick, we will forsake its promise to help change and perhaps even save the world. Native voices are critically important to uplift as we form our growing and producing communities that will insulate us from Big-Business-as-usual when it inevitably comes to buy out small farms and take over the hemp industry with conventional economies of scale approaches, and all the dehumanization that comes with that.
At the end of the presentations on Saturday, I was beat and ready to go home and try to remember everything I had learned. On the way out I stopped by 710 Spirits to say hi to my friends Liz and Cortland, who tried to get me to come to the after party with enticements of karaoke, which I love, but not when I am zapped. Next time, though, when it’s less overwhelming, absolutely.